It's hard to make after-work plans with friends knowing that your boss can require you to work another shift just because your co-worker calls in sick. You don't know whether to be miffed at your boss's last-minute schedule change or the co-worker who caused you to miss an evening out with your friends. If you're an at-will employee, with no contract or labor union agreement to protect you, your employer has the right to increase your hours, cut your hours, change your schedule or require overtime.
FLSA Rules Don't Count
The Fair Labor Standards Act mandates working hours, but only as they relate to the threshold for overtime pay. The FLSA doesn't establish limits on working hours for most jobs, which means your employer can require you to work another shift at any time and for any reason, including when your co-worker calls in sick.
Do As I Say: Employment At-Will
Employment at-will is the doctrine that says you or your employer has the right to end the working relationship at any time, for any reason or for no reason, with or without advance notice. If you're not an at-will employee, it means you have an employment contract or are subject to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement that sets your working conditions -- and, probably, your hours and work schedule -- in stone. But chances are you're an at-will employee and, therefore, don't have anything that prevents your work hours from being shuffled around. Worst-case scenario is that you lose your job if you refuse to work another shift.
Candor with Co-Workers
It won't solve your immediate problem of having to pick up another shift, but having a candid conversation with your co-worker can ease the burden. Your co-worker might not even know that you're the one who had to cover her shift. in So, just explain to her that you were forced to cancel your plans when she called in sick. Tell her that team members count on each other to be reliable, but that you understand when emergencies arise or when there's no way to avoid calling in sick. That said, if you're the only other employee available to work in her place, be straight with her -- but be calm and cool -- as you describe the strain it puts on you to work two shifts and give up your time off from work.
Employees and employers generally act in good faith, according to a social contract that suggests you'll hold up your end of the bargain as the employee as long as your employer fulfills its duty. The social contract also means employers show some respect for your free time. Ideally, an employer should give you advance warning that you have to pick up another shift -- advance, as in more than 15 minutes before the next shift starts. It's up to your employer to preserve the employer-employee relationship, and being considerate of your time off is one way to help you achieve work-life balance.
Conversation with Your Boss
Talk to your boss, too. If last-minute schedule changes cause you to miss a social outing, that's one thing. But when it becomes routine and you have to cancel one appointment after another, that affects your working relationship and makes you question how much your employer really values you. Calmly explain this to your boss. Say that you appreciate the confidence she has in your ability to pick up the slack, but that being forced to change your plans will ultimately eat away at your fondness for the company and your job.
Overtime and Special Consideration
If working an extra shift puts you at more than 40 hours in the workweek, you may be entitled to overtime pay if you're a nonexempt worker. Overtime is at least one and a half times your regular hourly rate, based on federal law, and could be more, depending on your state law. You may be able to strike a deal with your employer on some other form of consideration, such as taking off the following day, provided there's adequate staffing, or if your workplace rules aren't rigid, perhaps getting an extra vacation day. If special consideration isn't in the cards, ask your boss to consider your dependable work habits when it comes time for a raise or promotion.
- U.S. Department of Labor: Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor: When Can an Employee's Scheduled Hours of Work be Changed?
- Texas Workforce Commission: Work Schedules
- State of Maryland, Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation: Change of Work Hours: An Employer's Right
- University of Chicago: Work Scheduling Study: Schedule Flexibility and Unpredictability in Retail: Implications for Employee Work-Life Outcomes
- Nolo: Employment At Will: What Does It Mean?
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.